Take a Short Trip to Italy, for the Price of a Meal at Il Giorgione
By Anne Wolfe Postic
Italian food has a reputation in the United States. When American diners go to an Italian restaurant, they may envision big plates of spaghetti and meatballs, crusty garlic bread with plenty of butter, lasagna oozing with cheese, and overstuffed cannoli filled with sweet frosting. And those things are delicious. But American visitors to Italy are often pleasantly surprised by the lightness and fresh flavor of quotidian Italian fare. Pasta is served in smaller portions, generally as a separate course before the main dish, and flavorful ingredients are highlighted with just enough sauce or just a little bit of olive oil. Italians love food and meals are enjoyed over multiple courses and garnished heaps of conviviality.
Il Giorgione feels like a favorite Italian neighborhood bistro, the one where guests are greeted at the door by a member of the family and made to feel right at home. This is the spot where people celebrating a milestone with a special night out are as comfortable as families looking to connect over delicious comfort food at the end of a busy day. There is no typical diner because everyone is special here.
While the menu isn’t designed like a typical Italian one — with aperitivi, antipasti, primi, secondi, contorni, insalata, formaggi e frutti, dolci, caffe, and digestivi — it can definitely be enjoyed that way. As an aside, should you ever find yourself in Italy, do not try to order sweets, “dolce,” after your caffe. As visitors to the country quickly learn, coffee is served as a separate course, after dessert, and exceptions will not be tolerated. There may even be a law. But at Il Giorgione, owners Monica and George “Giorgione” Kessler encourage guests to order however they prefer. Staff is quick to make suggestions, like a small glass of house made limoncello to finish the meal, and they know their stuff. At Il Gio, the word “bruschetta” is pronounced properly, with a hard k and a silent h.
The pasta menu is outstanding, with classics like spaghetti carbonara and rigatoni alla Bolognese as well as fresh favorites like “spaghetti sciue sciue,” with garlic, roasted tomatoes, fresh basil, oregano, and flavorful olive oil. “Sciue sciue” means “hurry hurry” in Italian and refers to a dish thrown together on the fly. The dish is light, delicious, and “molto autentico.”
Nightly specials include bruschetta of the day, which may be topped with ricotta and honey, white beans and oregano, or any combination of ingredients dreamed up by Chef George. He draws on his childhood with Italian grandparents in Hoboken, New Jersey, and his extensive travels to Italy, now with wife Monica, for culinary inspiration. His grandparents’ Italian heritage and traditions planted the seed, which blossomed into a gorgeous tree (probably heavy with olives) over the years. At the University of South Carolina, he studied Italian language, history, literature, and film, and spent time studying in Urbino. He and Monica enjoy regular trips to different regions of Italy, inevitably returning with new ideas and knowledge. Those new ideas become dishes, available right here at home.
The wine list is carefully crafted. All the offerings are Italian and tagged with regions. Verdicchio from Le Marche is a delightfully crisp summer option, and prosecco is never the wrong choice. Monica and George are quick with a recommendation to satisfy any palate or pair well with anything on the menu. Recent specials include pan-seared North Carolina trout with grilled asparagus over polenta, cauliflower, and roasted garlic purée, which they recommend enjoying with a glass of Gavi Masera from Italy’s Piedmont region.
Portion sizes are reasonable, as are the prices, so don’t miss specialties like house made gelato and sorbet or chocolate dipped cannoli filled with house made sweet ricotta. The food here is prepared with knowledge and care, which shines through in every dish, from aperitivi to dolci.
Il Giorgione is a mini vacation to Italy, but better. It’s the neighborhood trattoria, the one tourists can’t find, the one where everyone eats like an Italian and they’re all part of the family.